Monday, July 18, 2011

A Fungus Among Us

One of the perils of life in the Phoenix area is Coccidioides immitis, a nasty fungus that grows in the soil here.  As a fungus, it reproduces via spores, hardy little devils that are naturally resistant to extremes of heat and cold and can remain viable for long periods of time.  The spores are relatively harmless while they remain on the ground, but if they become airborne they can be inhaled and cause a potentially life-threatening disease called Valley Fever.

Many people who contract Valley Fever have no symptoms.  Others feel as if they've contracted the flu.  Still others develop severe health problems that may include pneumonia, meningitis, damage to the bones, or even death.

Right now this is a serious concern because our area is experiencing a series of severe dust storms, or haboobs.  We had another one tonight.  After the giant haboob earlier this month, one expert predicted that up to 40% of the people who breathed in its dust could contract Valley Fever.  I don't imagine the storm tonight was any healthier.

No vaccine is available for Valley Fever, but it can be treated with anti-fungal medication if diagnosed in time.  I imagine I'm not the only Arizona resident who will be breathing uneasily for the next few weeks and ready to run to the doctor at the first sign of a cough.

“A dry cough is the trumpeter of death.” ~French Proverb

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